This link was sent to me by a friend. She doesn’t (yet) call herself a writer, but I know she’s got a book or two in her. 😉 For many reasons, this link was VERY timely.
This was incredibly inspiring. I’m totally up to my armpits in tax stuff right now, and I have so many wonderful things to share with you about tax code, but I thought I would launch the discussion that should ensue after watching this clip: mainly, why do I (and so many other writers) demand that our “genius” be synonymous with madness?
I am moving away from this association in my mind. It first started to come undone in a therapy session I had years ago. I don’t exactly remember the context (maybe the foot-dragging about writing?) but my therapist wanted to know why I thought that art should come from this deeply wounded place in a person’s life. I didn’t have an answer, really. I presumed that ALL art came from a place of deep insecurity, loss, tragedy, whatever. He told me that he created his best art when he was joyful. At the time, I was all HUH? JOY inspired art? Get off the dope, buddy. After my initial disbelief, though, I could see his point. Why DID I think that my art could only be drawn from the painful parts of life? Why COULDN’T it be about joy? Where had I learned that art was ONLY a coping mechanism for the most atrocious events in one’s life?
I woke up this morning, and yesterday morning, with poetry in my head. Poems often write themselves in my dreams. I rarely can recreate them verbatim after I wake up. I was just in the final stages of the dream (and the poem) when CLH kissed my forehead on his way out the door. Now, most people would be touched by the tenderness of that action: a man gently kissing his still-slumbering love goodbye as he heads out the door for the day. When you ARE that still slumbering love, and you just LIVE for strokes of genius like this and your brain is writing this incredible poem about this character you’ve been dreaming about, complete with alliterative references to Lot and his wife turning to a pillar of salt and killer free form structure… and someone wakes you up just as your brain is putting the final brushstrokes on your masterpiece, and your brain activity immediately jumps from “Writing The Next Langston Hughes Award Piece” to “What Was That Sensation, Now Must Put Food In Mouth”…. well, you kinda lose your shit. And then you sulk about it for the whole day.
Elizabeth Gilbert expertly tackles this very conundrum. She quotes two writers, Ruth Stone, and Tom Waits, each of whom have ways of dealing with the incredibly inopportune times that “genius” comes knocking (like when your dear CLH just wants to say goodbye to you while your lazy ass is still sleeping). Not once have I ever, like Tom Waits did, told Inspiration to cool its jets, that I was driving, for god’s sake, and would not be able to get to a pen and paper. Instead, I have, over the years, stocked the car with several notepads and writing instruments, and driven with my knees while I balance a pad on the steeting wheel, trying to scribble down the five words or so that suddenly come into my head from out of nowhere. My approach to writing is rather like a hunter’s is to hunting: I lay many, many traps for the poems to get snared in and hope for the best. I have notebooks in my bedroom, in my messenger bag, in my car… in practically every place I can think of so that I won’t ever be able to say I wasn’t ready.
Maybe if I was a little more deliberate, a little more practiced, a little more regimented, I could be have a better working relationship with that Inspiration instead of being resentful at it for having smacked me in the teeth at 5 am, or while I’m doing 65 on the Interstate.
Gilbert claims (and i agree with her) that it is much more healthy to say that we are not the geniuses ourselves, that it is the writing that is genius. We can thereby take the onus off ourselves to produce works of mindboggling brilliance EVERY time we write. I think this fear that I will miss something, that I won’t be a “genius” every time I write, is what keeps my car and nightstand stocked with paper.
Why do we get so impatient with the source of inspiration and beg it to hold on for just one sec while we grab a pencil? Why does it always feel like it’s rising up over the horizon, threatening to swallow me whole if I don’t defend myself with a pen? This is what the practice of writing must teach me: that it is my job to show up, to do my best work, and to tell Inspiration to buzz off once in a while, go bother some other writer. I can’t be poised like a nervous stenographer every moment of the day. It’s exhausting. The writing can come from a place that is light and airy. The part that holds all these words hostage isn’t always a dark cave. Sometimes it’s a window thrown open, a bright clear stream overflowing its banks. And I can let them loose whenever I want.